The Time is NOW

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

                                                                                                                 Nelson Mandela


         There are lots of things that are right about educations today. Teachers and students are reading more and interacting more with parents, students and fellow teachers. One way to interact with colleagues in your own school and with colleagues from across the country is to participate in professional development opportunities such as ILA and NCTE.  There are many stellar conferences in our own backyards. For me, PCTELA and KSRA in October promise to offer incredible venues that cannot be overlooked or dismissed. I will make time to attend both events.  This week I facilitated two sessions at a Best Practice Summit in Boyertown Area School District. So many Boyertown teachers K-12 were facilitating sessions, and there was an air of excitement and commitment throughout the day. Good things are happening.
          Six Dots Louis Braille
         When we make the time and monetary commitment to attend staff development opportunities such as these, we do so because we know it is the right thing to do , because we know we cannot stand still – we have to keep moving forward. We are teachers, and we can change the world by helping our students believe that they can change the world, and they don’t have to wait. When Jen Bryant wrote Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille, she did so to help young people know that they don’t have to wait to do something remarkable, something no one had ever done before, something that might change the world. Bryant wrote this through Louis’s perspective as a child who desperately wanted to be able to read. Blinded as a young boy, his quest to read the world eventually led him to develop the Braille system we still use today at the age of fifteen.  This account of a young inventor on a quest to invent an accessible reading system for blind people is moving and compelling.
         We are here together in a writing community called Slice of Life 2018. We’ve  learned some new strategies and structures, gathered new ideas to ponder, searched for and often purchased new books to read that were recommended by our colleagues here, shared these new books with our students, and experimented with myriad craft moves and strategies for writing workshop. We’ve all made some new friends and became reacquainted with Slicer friends from other years. We’ve been challenged to read more, write more, think more, feel more.
         Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for creating this place to read, write, and wonder.  We really need each other — for encouragement, for knowledge, for vision. This experience has helped us outgrow ourselves — change in some ways, consider possibilities. There’s a reason why we’re all here. We have the place and time to do something fabulous. The place is anywhere we gather with educators and/or students. The time is NOW.

Arthur Thinks He’s a Cat!

Slice of Life2I am participating in #SOL18. Thanks to twowritingteachers blog team for creating this space for writing, reading, and responding to writing. I cannot believe tomorrow is the last day of the March 2018 Slice!

Timid and inquisitive,

King Arthur joined our family.

He grew and grew and grew,

At eight months, bigger than Rhonda and Merri.

At first, he stayed on the floor,

No jumping up on laps and couches.

Then he learned he had springs in his back legs:Arthur and Mommy

Leaping up on the picnic table in our backyard,

Jumping like a bunny rabbit through the deep snow, Corgis and me in snow

Sailing into my husband’s lap when he’s reading a newspaper.

Somehow, he mistakenly thinks he’s a cat:

Climbing onto the top ledge of the couch and walking along,

Flying through the air from the picnic table top, clearing the girls,

Curling up in our laps to wash his paws.

King Arthur, our Welsh Corgi, thinks he’s a cat,

Sits on the top of the loveseat everyday

To get a better view of the birds.Arhtur at the window

Not one sound – he’s studying them closely.

Perhaps he thinks he can learn how to fly!

What you do away from your desk…

I slice-of-life2am participating in #sol18. Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for creating this space to write, read, and respond to others.

A writer spends a lot of time at her desk, or in my case, her kitchen table. Staring at the screen or at a page of notes, drumming the keys of a laptop or i-pad. There are deadlines to meet. All writers have deadlines. Some of these are personal goals, and others are set by editors. Either way, writers write with a deadline in mind.

DSC_9648Equally important is the time that writers spend away from their desks. Writers need to spend time with their loved ones – children, grandchildren, spouses, and pets, visit friends and new places, eat out at a new restaurant, drive two hours to take a long walk on the beach and hear the ocean’s song, listen to music, plan parties, walk through their neighborhood to notice the signs of spring. The list is endless.  DSC_4239DSC_4714

The point is, do stuff.  The twenty hours you spend away from your computer are important.  Rebacca Kai Dotlich wrote a delightful story, Bella and Bean, about two friends who approach life differently (they are mice). Bella wants to write poems and Bean wants to go for a walk. Bella wants to write poems and Bean wants Bella to look at her cute toes. Bean tries to coax Bella away from her notepad, and when Bean succeeds, Bella’s poetry begins to take unexpected twists. Bella learns that to write wonderful poems, she needs to experience the world in new and different ways. Bella needs to do stuff!Bella and Bean

Get up. Make a plan. Take charge. Do stuff. The time you spend writing at your desk will be more productive because of all the inspiration you’ve gathered when you are not at your desk, experiencing life firsthand.

Fun with Poetry!

slice-of-life2I am participating in #sol18. Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for creating this writing community!

There are many reasons to include poetry in reading and writing workshop and across the day. The rich vocabulary, the imagery and figurative language, the variety of forms and structures all make poetry study appealing. During poetry month, give students a chance to appreciate poetry and read it aloud to hear the music poetry offers to its readers. Students can find mentor poems and poets to imitate. Students need opportunities to:

  • read some poems without an expectation to “do” anything. Just breathe them in and out.
  • choose their own poems to explore and talk about with others.
  • type or write out poems that “speak to them” in their notebooks.
  • write out lines they like—for sound, as trigger for thought, for image, for memories they evoke.
  • read poems more than once and revisit poems they’re attracted to for different reasons.
  • read different types of poems, different authors, to deepen their understanding and welcome challenges.
  • give voice by reading poems aloud that they have found and poems they have composed, individually and in chorus with others.

*Many of these selections can be used in primary grades as well.

Poetry Annotations-Grade 3

Heard, Georgia. (1992) Creatures of Earth, Sea and Sky. Boyds Mills Press. Honesdale, PA

  • Dressing Like a Snake: point of view, personification, rhyme, question, inference, metaphor
  • Fishes: poetry for 2 voices, exact nouns, proper nouns, fluency, strong verbs, simile

Larrick, Nancy (1968) Piping Down the Valleys Wild. Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. NY, NY

  • Leaves  simile, personification, inference, un-rhymed
  • Mice point of view, question, rhyme, rhythm, topic sentence & supporting details, inference
  • Birthday Cake  rhyme, questions, inference, compare/contrast
  • Modern Dragon  metaphor, inference, rhyming couplets, strong verbs
  • A Dragonfly  rhythm, rhyme, simile, vocabulary
  • The Squirrel rhyme, strong verbs, use of sentence structure, simile, onomotopoiea, inference
  • Bumblebee rhyme, simile, vocabulary, onomatopoeia, fluency, inference

Poetry Annotations-Grade 4

 Heard, Georgia. (1992) Creatures of Earth, Sea and Sky. Boyds Mills Press. Honesdale, PA

  • Bat Patrol: simile, alliteration, effective repetition, strong verbs, vocabulary, inference
  • Frog’s Serenade: onomatopoeia, poetry for 2 voices, fluency, hyphenated adjectives
  • Dragonfly: strong verbs, exact nouns, use of colon, hyphenated adjectives, metaphor, vocabulary, un-rhymed.

Larrick, Nancy (1968) Piping Down the Valleys Wild. Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. NY, NY.

  • On A Snowy Day: personification, extended rhyme, inference, metaphor
  • The Moon’s the North Wind’s Cooky: personification, rhyme, metaphor, ellipsis, inference, compare/contrast
  • Easter: simile, rhyme, personification
  • Dandelion: extended metaphor, personification, un-rhymed, alliteration, question, exclamation
  • City: compare, contrast, metaphor, personification, rhyme, inference
  • Lewis Has A Trumpet: repetition, rhyme, internal rhyme, inference, simile, onomatopoeia, point of view

Poetry Annotations-Grade 5

 Larrick, Nancy (1968) Piping Down the Valleys Wild. Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. NY, NY

  • Pencil and Paint: personification, rhyme, vocabulary, visualization, compare/contrast
  • Some People: compare/contrast, simile, rhyme, inference, draw conclusions, theme
  • The Eagle: vocabulary, setting, rhyme, rhythm, personification, simile, strong verbs, visualization, alliteration, inference
  • Concrete Mixers: simile, metaphor, vocabulary, hyphenated adjectives, strong verbs, point of view
  • Dandelion: extended metaphor, personification, un-rhymed, question, exclamation

What happened, Merri?

Slice of Life2I am participating in #sol18. Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for creating this writing community.

This morning I woke up to let the dogs out at six a.m. and start writing my Slice post. My Merri seemed fine as she went out into the backyard with Arthur and Rhonda (all Welsh Corgis), but she would not come up the two steps to come back inside. I quickly stepped out onto the patio in bare feet, not caring that it was frosty and very cold. Scooping her up into my arms, I brought Merri inside.

I placed her on the couch in the family room, making sure the soft, chocolate-brown throw was under her. That’s her favorite place to curl up and take a snooze. I covered her with one of my soft sweater vests and petted her. I thought maybe her feet were just very cold from the frosty grass. She hates to get snow in between the pads on her feet, and we still have snow along the back edge of our fence. It was then that I discovered tremors running up and down her spine. “Oh, dear God,” I thought. “Not her back!”  Corgis have very short legs and very long backs. They can be prone to back and hip problems. Merri is going to be twelve this fall, so she is a senior citizen, so to speak. I was worried.

A million questions flooded my mind: Did the puppy jump on her (He is already three pounds over regulation size for a male – and he is not fat, just solid muscle and very large)?  Did she sleep on the cold tile floor in the foyer last night?  Had she wrenched her back when she jumped off the couch last night? Did she take a misstep in the yard?  Did Merri and Rhonda have a little spat I had not witnessed?

2012-08-19_12-06-18_6 (2)


My husband came down and prepared breakfast for the dogs. Merri got her bowl on the sofa with me. She gobbled it down – a good sign. My girl loves to eat, and if she had turned her nose up at her breakfast, that would not have been a good sign!  We put our gigantic eight-month old puppy in the hall and placed a gate in the entranceway to the family room. He started to whine. “What did I do wrong?” I could almost hear him say in dog yelps. I covered Merri and decided to give her a chance to settle down. Thank goodness the tremors stopped. She rested for another forty minutes.  When I let Rhonda and Arthur outside again, she wanted to go, too. She even ran around a little bit.


Right now, she is sleeping on a pile of towels at my feet while I am writing this blog post for Tuesday. Arthur is lying on the floor close by and Rhonda is in her pink bed. I am probably going to make a vet appointment for Tuesday morning. An x-ray and a thorough exam wouldn’t hurt. Our dogs are, of course, part of our family. I think I take better care of them than I take care of myself! Those Corgi smiles and wriggling bottoms (they have no tails) keep me happy!Merri Welsh Corgis

Sharing Golden Lines: A Simple Strategy for Responding to a Text


slice-of-life2I am participating in #SOL18. Thanks to twowritingteachers blog team for creating this wonderful space to write, respond, and gather new ideas.

“Sharing Golden Lines” is a useful strategy for getting all students to contribute to a conversation about a chapter in a textbook, an article, a piece of writing, an essay. By choosing four or five “golden lines” to share, students talk about more of the text. Sometimes, in a group conversation, students can spend 10 to 15 minutes talking about one idea or craft. Since everyone in the small group must share a different golden line, at least four or five concepts are examined. When one group member shares, other members of the group can add their own ideas, agreeing or disagreeing. But each member must be ready to introduce a new idea presented in the text when it is his turn to “jumpstart” the conversation with another point. Sharing Golden Lines works well across the content areas and is especially useful in upper elementary, middle, and high school classrooms.

How is the “Golden Lines” protocol facilitated?

  1. Read the selection independently.
  2. Each reader highlights 3 to 4 concepts (“golden lines”) within the text that impacted his/her learning, charged his/her thinking, supported his/her understanding or might have raised a question. If it is a piece of writing, students can highlight author’s craft they feel the writer used and how it helped the writing. *The number of concepts highlighted should be equal to the number of students in the group he will participate in.
  3. In a small group each participant shares one of the highlighted concepts (“golden line”) and shares the reason(s) for the selection. It is important that each group member identifies and discusses a different concept (or craft). This allows for more of the text to be processed.

Why is the process carried out in such fashion?

  1. Readers can identify with different ideas.
  2. It allows choice and provides access to others’ thinking
  3. It honors a reader’s connections to text by inviting individual interpretation
  4. This process surfaces confusions, misconceptions, and allows for support in comprehension and revision techniques for writing.
  5. It gives students agency.
  6. It supports the personal and social dimensions of the Reading Apprenticeship Framework


Mentor Texts and Writing

slice-of-life2 I am participating in #SOL18. Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for providing this space to write, read, and respond to each other’s writing. It has been a wonderful routine to begin with writing each day and to gather new ideas  for structures, craft, and topics.

Today I decided to write about my favorite topic – teaching writing with mentor texts – by using the third person to explain my thinking.

“If you are teaching the qualities ( traits) of good writing, all you need are some picture books,” says Lynne Dorfman. “They have vivid vocabulary—word choice is so important, because they only have 28 to 32 pages to get the job done,” Dorfman says. Teachers can read them aloud in one sitting, but also return to them throughout the year as a model for good writing. Students, too, can easily return to picture book mentor texts independently to study and imitate. Eventually, they will even find their own mentor authors and mentor texts.

Chapter books are great for helping students improve their reading skills, but trying to get students to develop their writing skills by imitating a Harry Potter book, for example, isn’t going to work as well as picture books. Lynne recommends using picture books as “mentor texts” to help students cultivate a mentality of “I can do that!”  She once heard Shelley Harwayne tell an anecdote about Paul McCartney. While accepting an award, Sir Paul talked about his mentors. He particularly talked about Buddy Holly who only used three chords to play most of his songs. McCartney thought to himself, “I can do that!” And so began an incredible career in the music industry.  In fact, McCartney’s and Lennon’s first 40 songs were influenced by Holly’s style. Lynne has always found that story to be very powerful and has used it almost as a mantra when working with young writers.

“You’re not alone as a teacher-writer when you have these wonderful authors and mentor texts. They stand with you as if you have these authors in your classroom with you helping you teach writing to children.”  Lynne is especially fond of children’s literature. “They are wonderful stories with life lessons that act as social signposts, guiding us and providing direction,” she says. She estimates that her picture book collection numbers more than 3,000 books and is still growing.  In fact, just this morning Lynne asked her husband to help her shop for another bookcase. “I love books! They’re my favorite thing to buy. I do read on a Kindle occasionally, but there’s nothing like curling up with a book.”

Lynne would like to write a book about an everyday hero. She would like to research a woman to write about – someone like Anne Carroll Moore or Marie Curie (picture books already exist for both). She’s making a list of possibilities and hopes to have something in time for Carolyn Yoder’s nonfiction workshop at Highlights Foundation in August 2019. Lynne believes that students need not only mentor texts for writing, but also mentors in general for living.

Writing is her favorite pastime. She loves to read, too, but she thinks best with a pen in her hand. “Writing is really a part of what it means to be human—to be able to write your thoughts and feelings down and send them out into the world, kind of like a prayer, hoping that someone will hear you. It validates who you are and what you’re about. Every day we wake up with a clean page to write on, and we write the story of our lives.”


Where do you find your peace of mind?



slice-of-life2I am participating in #SOL18. Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for creating this space to write, read, and respond to each other’s writing.

Last evening we had dinner with my goddaughter Alex and her fiance Steve. I was eager to see Alex since her shower is coming up in early April. We are having it at The Gables, a wonderful restaurant near their home and near Longwood Gardens. After a lunch and celebration we are going to head to the Gardens to take pictures of Alex and all her guests (My husband will be the photographer).

A great meal and great conversation. Alex and I were talking about how to achieve mindfulness and a sense of tranquility. For Alex, it’s when she’s riding. Being one with the horse – it is all she thinks about and is able to free herself of any other thoughts. For Alex, it’s a special part of any day.  I nodded, remembering times at the stables when I would sit on the low stone wall just outside the barn’s courtyard at the end of a day. As purple dusk filled in the spaces between the trees, I sat very still and just breathed in and out. Sometimes, I heard an owl call. Sometimes, I watched the flicker of fireflies. My mind was strangely empty of problems, and pressing issues seemed to evaporate into the night air.

Today, I find that same peace in long walks at Longwood Gardens. I will start going once a week now, arriving when the grounds are open to the public and fairly empty – it is not crowded then, especially on week days. As the days grow warmer, I’ll hike through the meadows, across the meadow bridge to the old Webb farmhouse where an art gallery awaits me inside. Birds will be plentiful, and the colors of the gardens will change almost every other month. I’ll breathe in and out, walk, and sometimes pause to sit on a bench and write or sketch in my notebook. That’s peaceful, too. Longwood meadow

The quietude and solitude of a walk – alone, with my husband, or with a friend – is good for my heart (literally and figuratively) and for my soul. I bring you the beauty of the garden today through my photo collection, soon to grow larger as we head out to Longwood for an afternoon walk.

Books for Social Justice: Leaving Home

slice-of-life2I am participating in #SOL18. Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for creating this space to write, read, and respond.

Islandborn, a new immigration story by Junot Diaz, is the story of a little girl who learns about her birthplace from family and friends. Although the story does not reveal the name of the island, readers can conclude that the story is about the history of the Dominican Republic.  The wonderful illustrations by Leo Espinosa reveal the diversity of the people who live there.  Through the stories she is told, Lola discovers why her family had to leave the beautiful island when she was just a baby. The stories spark Lola’s imagination, and in her mind, she travels back to the island home that she never got to experience and know.


This picture book explains why some families are forced to leave their homes and try to rebuild in a strange, new land. It describes the dictatorship of Trujillo as a “monster that fell upon the land,” depicting Trujillo as a green-colored bat.  This age-appropriate book will open classroom conversations about immigration – why people leave a home and country they love, often leaving everything behind, to search for a new home. As Lola becomes immersed in the stories – sometimes joyous, sometimes painful and heartbreaking, she realizes what her abuela’s words really mean: “Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you.” Islandborn


For secondary students, read In the Time of the Butterflies, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, and Before We Were Free all written by Julia Alvarez.



Other Children’s Books to Explore Immigration Themes:
My Name is Sangoel by Karen Williams
My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
One Green Apple by Eve Bunting
Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say
I’m New Here by Ann Sibley O’Brie
A Piece of Home by Jeri Watts
Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story by Reem Faruqi
Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat
The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Snow, snow….go away. Don’t come back another day!

slice-of-life2I am participating in #SOL18. Thanks to the twowritingteacher blog team for providing the space to write and grow!

It is pretty. It is a winter wonderland. Fairy-like. Magical. Tranquil. But it is also exhausting. Chilling. Annoying. I should have been leading a professional development day with fourth and fifth grade teachers on Wednesday. Not at home, preparing to help my husband shovel and set up for another possible power outage due to wet, heavy snow.

My friend Nancy wrote a piece on facebook about a robin who greeted her on her doorstep yesterday morning before the snow fell fast and furious. She said the bird looked up at her, almost imploring Nancy to invite her inside.

Here, our robins look confused. I was glad to see them this morning, and I hope the snow melts quickly in the next two to three days to reveal some grass and garden soil. My husband is outside right now, feeding the birds while I do the breakfast dishes. The Welsh Corgis followed him outside, leaping like bunny rabbits through the deep snow.

This is the fourth time we are filling feeders since early yesterday morning. Cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays, woodpeckers, grackles, mourning doves, and pigeons busily feasted throughout the stormy afternoon and into the early evening. They’re all back this morning.  Isn’t anyone else in my Dresher neighborhood feeding the birds?

Bird feeder March snow storm